Theatrical thrills come most chillingly when they’re draped with a wisp of black humour. Patrick Marlowe’s four-hander The Box, premièred at the Frinton Summer Theatre last night, is a useful addition to the genre. There are some very good one-liners and, though you think you know what’s coming next, there are enough twists in the plot to keep any audience’s wits at reasonable stretch.
Packages, human and inanimate, come in many shapes and sizes. We begin with the human sort – a young couple who have just moved into a luxurious country house. He’s made a killing (more than one, if truth be told) as a financial whiz-kid in the City; she’s a nice girl from a nice family. They share love and a liking for the good things in life. Where they differ, as slowly becomes clear, is on matters of social propriety and (more importantly) on business ethics.
As they settle down to coffee and croissants for their first meal in their new home, telephones start ringing. Soon he has to return to London, in spite of apparently having taken a complete and very early retirement. Alone in the house, she opens the door to a spruce elderly man whose van has apparently broken down. And the box (just the first one) of the play’s title? That appears through the French windows, propelled by the older man’s assistant, who’s certainly someone to whom you wouldn’t willingly give house-room.
The author plays Nick, an expert in money manipulation though his touch is less sure as far as human relations are concerned. It’s a rounded portrait of a believable type of man with deliberately self-blurred boundaries. Sophia Linden is young wife Esther, establishing a somewhat fey persona which is ripe for full maturity when events trigger the necessity for change so abruptly. The older man is at the same time ingratiating and slightly sinister, with his impeccable syntax and well-worn, well-brushed business suit, and Seymour Matthews conveys this with authority, as well as the hints of what and why this is so.
As the handyman colleague, Chris Porter radiates silnt menace from shaven head through tattooed arm to hobnailed toes. The theatre’s artistic director Edward Max has staged it with just the right sense of distorted realism (horror is so much more intense within an apparently calm domestic setting); the design team credited is that of Martin Robinson, Neil Irish and Rosie McConnell.